[This is a review of Orphan Black season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
From day one, Orphan Black had the benefit of having a highly intriguing story to sell. When Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) first spotted Beth Childs on that train platform, only to watch her newfound identical twin jump to her death, it pulled you right in. How would you react if you bumped into someone who looked exactly like you? And then, what would you do if you had the opportunity to find out why she looked exactly like you?
What made Orphan Black such a standout from that point on was how it expanded upon that inciting incident. The slow reveal of additional clones and their search for answers proved to be a very natural, sustaining progression. The trouble is, where do you go from there?
The new clone game could only last so long and it seems as though the writers figured that out because, at a point, the introductions stopped and the character-building began. The thing is, during season 1, everything was new. They could stick to scratching the surface of the science and politics behind the situation and still satiate an audience.
This time, however, the writers face the challenge of needing to delve deeper without letting the more sci-fi components of the show spin out of control and take away from the fact that the plot features living, breathing people. Fortunately, based on the first episode of the new season, it looks as though there could be some exciting yet grounded story expansions on the way.
‘Nature Under Constraint and Vexed’ opens just as strong as ‘Natural Selection’ in season 1 in that it kicks off with a downright riveting contained event. Sarah races through the pouring rain and into the warmth of a classically decorated diner. Her panic is palpable, but the setting and line cook’s kindness serve as a reminder that there’s still life in this world beyond the clones’ immediate situation.
On the one hand, the interaction between Sarah and the cook hints that the predicament is growing and will affect more people, but at the same time, it makes Sarah’s world seem even smaller. Here are these people capable and willing to help her out with a simple cup of tea, but then in comes two vicious henchmen, further suggesting that the bad guys, whomever they may be, are closing in and there’s less and less of a chance of escape.
From there, bit by bit, the Orphan Black veterans return. Felix (Jordan Gavaris) is living it up at a club and has an oddly passive response to the news of Kira’s (Skyler Wexler) disappearance, Paul (Dylan Bruce) is seemingly in cahoots with pro-clone Rachel, Delphine (Evelyne Brochu) is attempting to keep Cosima’s symptoms at bay and Allison is trying to return to her happy homemaker existence by busying herself with a musical.
On top of all of that, Dr. Leekie (Matt Frewer) is making moves at the Dyad Institute, Rachel’s right-hand man, Daniel (Matthew Bennett), is lurking around and Art (Kevin Hanchard) is still desperately seeking answers. It’s a lot. Too much, in fact. But even though ‘Nature Under Constraint and Vexed’ doesn’t function as a structured and refined narrative with a clear goal in mind, it does successfully take on the form of a premiere episode that builds upon each and every character with a theme in mind – trust and loyalty.
Cosima and Delphine seem to be as in love as ever, but Delphine is still working with Leekie. She professes that her top priority is to keep Cosima from falling victim to this mysterious clone condition, but is also clearly willing to consult Leekie on the issue without Cosima’s consent. Paul still feels like the one-note, wet blanket of the bunch, but his apparent loyalty (or obligation) to both Sarah and Rachel suggests we finally could see him make a decision.
Art is making bigger moves as well. Throughout season 1, his quest to figure out exactly what happened to Beth served as a solid subplot in terms of the problems it posed for Sarah and the rest of the clones. In this episode, however, Art’s situation gets interesting on a personal level because it actually poses a risk for him. Angie (Inga Cadranel) isn’t going to let up, so once Sarah lets Art in, there’s got to be some serious conflict coming his way.
Per usual, Maslany’s ability to act against herself is absolutely astounding. There continues to be such undeniable chemistry between Sarah, Alison, Cosima and Rachel - so much so that it doesn't cross your mind that the same actress is playing each character. Clearly, Maslany made her mark on the industry through her work in season 1, but if episode one of season 2 is any indication, she could get even closer to making an indelible impression and snagging that Emmy nod.
It’s also hard to talk about Maslany’s prowess without giving credit to the folks behind the scenes here. All frames with double Maslany in season 1 looked flawless, but in this episode, there’s a clear push to deliver even more complex visuals, specifically in some shots during the conversation between Sarah, Cosima and Felix and Sarah’s altercation with Rachel in the tail end of the episode.
The only drawback to the clones’ portion of this episode is that there isn’t all that much growth, but at this point, that’s okay. ‘Nature Under Constraint and Vexed’ functions more as a stepping stone back into this world than it does as a continuation of Sarah and company's story. There’s no clear-cut through-line and Sarah’s big plan is arbitrary, but the episode is still a highly successful tease in that it offers up just a mere sampling of what’s to come for almost all of the major players, ultimately culminating in some big reveals, namely Helena’s survival, the reveal that Rachel and Leekie are not responsible for Kira’s disappearance and the possibility that Sarah will come clean to Art.
The episode doesn’t deliver all of its new information in the most concise, sound manner, but it does get the information across and, perhaps most importantly, every bit of it is highly intriguing and brimming with potential. Should much of the new season focus on what’s hinted at here, Orphan Black could be in for yet another innovative, smart and powerful run._________________________________________________
Orphan Black continues next Saturday with ‘Governed by Sound Reason and True Religion’ @9pm on BBC America.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.